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What is 3D V-NAND technology and why should you care?

Not everyone's aware of the fact that Samsung also has a memory division: in addition to its smartphone, home electronics, TV, audio, apps, printers and healthcare sectors it also has an entire Memory department devoted to engineering SSD drives, memory cards and Optical Disk Drives.

Last week ITProPortal headed to Korea to witness the birth of Samsung's newest SSD Drive, the Samsung 850 Pro. However, perhaps one of the biggest stories was the technology that's been packed into this drive: 3D V-NAND architecture.

Hardware buffs read on, but for the uninitiated it's worth taking a couple of steps back to quickly explain the difference between SSD and HDD before delving into the details of 3D V-NAND.

SSD storage is the alternative to your hard drive (or HDD) when you buy a laptop, ultrabook or desktop. HDD is essentially the traditional spinning hard drive that gives you basic nonvolatile storage on a computer. That means, information doesn't "go away" like the data on the system memory when you turn the system off. A read/write head on an arm accesses your data which is stored on spinning platters covered in a magnetic coating that stores the information, encased in a hard drive enclosure (which is why it's so noisy).

SSD does functionally the same job as a traditional hard drive (it saves your data while the system is off, boots the system up again and so on), but rather than storing data on a magnetic coating on top of spinning platters, the data is stored on interconnected flash memory chips that retain the data even when there's no power present. As a rule of thumb, SSDs are much faster than HDDs but they're also much more expensive.

So where does 3D V-NAND come into all this and why is it so important? Well, the launch of Samsung's 850 Pro SSD threw a whole new technology into the mix, and that technology is 3D Vertical NAND (or 3D V-NAND for short.)

In essence, like the name suggests, 3D V-NAND means an SSD made up of flash cells stacked vertically and 3 dimensionally. This is significant because before now, most SSDs have been built on 2D Planar NAND technology.

Now 2D architecture can be limited if you want to offer higher capacity – basically make your memory bigger. Think of it like building a housing estate. In 2D NAND, if you wanted to increase the number of houses on your SSD housing estate, you'd need to expand over acres and acres of land across the landscape building houses all on one level. In 3D you can build lots of housing going upwards in skyscraper apartment blocks. Suddenly you have much higher capacity that's much more efficient.

So in basic terms, this new technology in the Samsung 850 Pro could revolutionise performance in solid state drives. In technical terms, that's because it alleviates frustrating constraints associated with shrinking NAND lithography down to ever-smaller process nodes.

It's revolutionary because it paves the way for the Terabyte era. Everyone is talking about Big Data right now - we're generating information at an unprecedented rate - but how are we going to store and sift through it all? It's early days, but 3D V-NAND opens the path to much higher SSD capacity, meaning a basic drive could pack 8TB by 2017. We're going to seriously need that, both in the consumer and enterprise spaces.

Stay tuned with ITProPortal for the full review of the Samsung 850 Pro this week, but in the meantime here's our news story from the ground in Seoul when the new SSD was unveiled.

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